Technically, this story contains spoilers to a show some unfortunate souls have yet to see. If so, read no further. However, in this Twiteration, any plot point not revealed 30 minutes after a show airs constitutes less a ‘spoiler’ than an ‘archaeological find.’
First, a firm and earnest caveat: I am perhaps the planet’s most ardent fan of Breaking Bad, and it remains my favorite show of all time (though Mad Men, considering its subject matter, may be the greatest). So I realize this is blue meth heresy.
But the fifth and final season pales in comparison to the first four, and, however slightly, tarnishes the show’s legacy.
That’s not to say the fifth season wasn’t awash in genius. Todd and “Ozymandias” should take their rightful place as two brilliant offspring of their (crystal) Glass parents. “Ozymandias” may be the most tense, melancholy and heartbreaking 42 minutes of television.
But consider the first four seasons as a whole: It was unique in that it a) Turned middle class rage inside out and b) Paid attention to the grisly, pesky details of death.
Walt was the ultimate nerd anti-hero. And who was the show’s greatest villain? Fast food manager Gus. Our relatable hero? Jesse, a skinny junkie who sucks at math. It took three episodes (its first shows) to dispose of two bodies, blasphemy for a crime drama.
And remember: Vince Gilligan and writers weren’t sure whether the show would be picked up for a fifth season, so he wrote the fourth-season finale, “Face Off,” as a prospective show-ender.
And what an ending it was! Never has a book seen a more elaborate final chapter. Walt, ever the chemist, luring Gus into one more bump from the one dope he could not resist: vengeance. Gus and Tio’s final, wordless exchange. That Walt simply provided users the tools of their destruction (much like his meth to junkies) proved a perfect, explosive finish, as did the upbeat-yet-bittersweet postscript of the poisonous depths Walt was willing to plumb.
But overdue popularity made a fifth season (and its drawn-out cash-in over two years) inevitable.
And let’s be honest: The fifth season didn’t match the previous in subtle decadence.
For one, the fifth season finale is terribly derivative of the fourth: Jesse, imprisoned in a lab, forced to cook for evil dealers while an armed Walt with uncertain motives arrives for the showdown.
The fifth-season nemeses, as well, lacked that unexpected villainy. Aside from Todd and Lydia, our evil-doers are white supremacists with prison records and swastikas tattooed on their necks. Not hard to hate — or spot, in a run-of-the-mill crime story. Our fifth season cliffhanger is a dying killer on the lam with nothing left to lose. It can turn out only one way.
And to have Walt’s cancer return was a misstep. It made his death a certainty and his life a waste. Walt needed to die from the life he’d chosen (even if it’s by Jesse’s or Skyler’s hand), not from the genes he inherited. His dramatic turn on Jesse, from protector to predator, strayed the what were always the show’s true addictions: Jesse’s need for a father fix; Walt’s high from dealing it.
Of course, this is to critique a Monet. That the show invited such fine-toothing, debate and dispute is to testify to its greatness.
And yes, I still know your name. You’re that high school chemistry teacher. The one with the doting-but-watchful pregnant wife and the high school son with Cerebral palsy that you’re desperately trying to still impress.